Review: Shoot ‘Em Up

shoot em upI went into Shoot ‘Em Up with fairly high expectations. I’m big fan of those stylized sorts of action films like Sin City and the Kill Bill series. When I saw the trailer to this film, directed by Michael Davis, I was expecting something along those lines. Its fairly transparent that this film wears its influences proudly as it references action classics like John Woo’s Hard Boiled and the spaghetti westerns of Serigo Leone. However, the filmmakers here don’t have that deft touch that takes the film from being another generic action film and make it a visually-stunning piece.

Plot is extremely secondary here. Mr. Smith (Clive Owen), the carrot-chomping stranger is pulled into a labrynthine conspiracy right from the opening. The claim that the film is non-stop action is very true. The bullets start flying and there’s barely a moment where they aren’t. Mr. Smith witnesses a pregnant woman in distress, stumbling down the street in the middle of the night. She’s pursued by a yelling man, brandishing a handgun and with a pained sigh, Smith becomes involved. Paul Giamatti plays the aptly named Mr. Hertz, an incredibly despicable leader of a gang of thugs in pursuit of Smith. There’s a bit about midway through the film that irked me and stood out as the writers trying to explain away something. Hertz mentions that he can sense things, alluding to a form of ESP. This didn’t so much serve as to help the plot but stand out as a painful example of how self-aware this film is. This is its downfall, the inability to decide what it wants to be. One the one hand it really wants to be an action-comedy, winking at the audience but on the other hand it wants to be a badass, “take no prisoners” action film. It’s extremely hard for any film to do both those things, especially a film that’s being helmed by a director who still seems to be finding his bearings.

Yes, there are some inventive sequences in the film. Mr. Smith is delivering a baby in the middle of a shoot out and, to save time, simply shoots the umbilical cord. There’s another scene where he and his prostitute companion (Monica Belluci) are the victims of quite a violent coitus interruptus and instead of breaking their concentration, she latches on to him and finishes while he finishes off the intruders. What keeps these sequences from really taking the film into that next sphere is the lack of finesse in camerawork, in actor choreography, and personality. Smith is meant to reference classic mysterious heroes but at some point all of those heroes displayed an interesting twist in their personality, some large act of compassion, something unexpected. Smith never does. He’s the same one-note the entire film. The same could be said for Hertz, he merely grumbles and mumbles throughout the film and is nothing more than a one-dimensional villain. The editing has pretty big flaws and that hurts the fluidty of the action sequences. They never seem to be what great action sequences are which is merely a dance of violence. Instead they feel like something a 12 year old boy and his friends just thought was “cool”. Yes, there’s a place for that in film but its the same mentality that brings about the majority of films The Rock and Vin Diesel star in, just generic action, not classic action.

It’s definitely a film worth at least one viewing but I doubt you’ll feel compelled to return to it. I think Kung Fu Hustle is a good film to compare this with. Both are action-comedies but Hustle is able to sell it because it has the confidence to not take itself seriously on a consistent basis. Stephen Chow also brings a lot of charm and personality to his hero, something that Owen isn’t allowed to do from the script.

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~ by Seth on September 14, 2007.

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